A few years ago I was pulled over by the Nope not adulting today Eeyore shirt for a minor traffic issue. The cop who pulled me over was a strange one. With a big smile and a soft voice he asked me if I know why he pulled me over. As soon as I started to speak, he leaned in and screaming into my face. Red face, spittle, bad breath, the works. (It wasn’t even much of a violation and I got it dismissed without much trouble in court–I’m baffled at this guy’s behavior. I’m excruciatingly polite, etc.) There was something about this unhinged officer that triggered something from the assault. The people who assaulted me were in what used to be known as a turf gang. They interrogated me about where I was from, one of them asking questions, another screaming at me as soon as I tried to speak. (Until they started beating me, that is…) For months after the traffic stop, I did the same rumination thing I had done with the assault, only this time about my interactions with the cop both on the side of the road and in the courtroom. I thought that besting him in court would change something, but it didn’t. I stopped speaking much, both at home and at work. I also have trouble with any kind of conflict and if anyone raises their voice to me I go to pieces. My heart pounds to the point that I had trouble hearing and my vision would telescope. For years after the assault I was hyper-vigilant and I am that way once again. I can’t help constantly scanning my surroundings for threats.
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I sought out EMDR therapy to help with this. The first therapist was a non-starter. We could not establish the “safe place.” The whole reason I was there was because I always feel unsafe. The second therapist forged on after we were unsuccessful at doing this step as well. The sessions leave me feeling pretty ragged and do not lead to any different feelings about the traumatic events. If anything I feel more sensitive to them. I have been going for some months now and do not notice much difference and have grown pretty discouraged. And I feel defective because this great new therapy has not worked on me. Another thing that doesn’t work for me is the Subjective Unit of Distress scale that they insist on using. I feel pretty cut off from my subjective experience, so I pick numbers based on what I think the therapist wants to hear. Not the best plan, I admit, but they insist on a number. My emotions go from Good Enough to Not So Good, so putting a whole number on it seems a little preposterous. In EMDR you start with the negative belief about yourself and try to work it into a positive belief. The positive beliefs have not come easily or naturally. It’s not too surprising; I have been living with the negative beliefs for decades and decades. They are extraordinarily well developed and powerful. The positives are just tiny, barely-formed interlopers.